May 2011 Archives

JMBM proposes amendments to CEQA

May 24, 2011

Sheri Bonstelle

JMBM's land use attorneys partnered with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, including its developer members, to draft amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") (Public Resources Code, Division 13, Sections 21000 et al) that will provide developers more certainty and protection from frivolous lawsuits that have threatened Hollywood development in a time of economic turmoil. Hollywood Chamber president, Leron Gubler, stated that thousands of construction and permanent jobs were lost in Hollywood, because CEQA lawsuits against eight key projects delayed the developments for one year to eighteen months. As a result, owners decided to put their projects on hold or abandon construction, because either the project lost financing backing or the onset of the recession eliminated the anticipated market. JMBM and the Hollywood Chamber met with State Senator Curren Price in January 2011 to discuss the serious implications of the lawsuits that threaten Hollywood's growth, even when the developer ultimately prevails. Senator Price lauded these amendments as changes that would strengthen CEQA, and agreed to sponsor the bill in the 2011 Senate term.

CEQA is the foundation for environmental law in California, and its primary objective is to require disclosure of any significant environmental effects of proposed projects and mitigation of these effects to the extent feasible. CEQA also provides strict timelines and expedited litigation schedules for cases involving a challenge to such environmental reviews. However, the law allows for lenient extensions by judges, and the one-year time limit to proceed to hearing is often extended to over two years. In recent years the State legislature considered numerous amendments to CEQA to further expedite the litigation schedule and eliminate frivolous claims to allow more certainty for owners and developers in the process. However, the amendments did not ultimately provide a timely resolution of pending lawsuits. As a result, owners decided to put their projects on hold or abandon construction, because either the project lost financing backing or the onset of the recession eliminated the anticipated market.

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Court decision changes CEQA-related traffic impact analyses

May 24, 2011

Neill Brower

A recent court decision has already changed the way many public agencies evaluate traffic impacts in analysis reports prepared to satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"). On December 16, 2010, the Sixth District of the California Court of Appeal issued its decision in Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Association v. City of Sunnyvale, invalidating an environmental impact report (EIR) for a major roadway extension project. Sunnyvale should be considered as a logical extension of case law regarding the proper baseline for CEQA analysis and the end of the future baseline scenario as the only basis of a traffic impact analysis.

Prior to Sunnyvale, an accepted practice for traffic impact analysis involved crafting a future baseline scenario, usually based on the anticipated year of project build-out, and evaluating project impacts based on the difference between future conditions with and without project-related traffic. This approach makes intuitive sense, as under very few circumstances would traffic levels and street configurations plus project traffic represent an accurate picture of the project's ultimate effect on local and regional roadways. The Sunnyvale decision even recognized this.

However, CEQA Guidelines require an evaluation of the effects of a project on "the environment." Generally, "the environment" means the physical conditions that exist in an area during publication of the Notice of Preparation (NOP) or, if no NOP is published, the time that environmental review began.

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Eldercare housing crisis looming

May 24, 2011

Ben Reznik

We are getting older and living longer. The statistics for the growth of the elderly are compelling. In the past few years we have seen several types of new private eldercare facilities, such as independent living and assisted living pop up in the LA area, mostly in more affluent neighborhoods. But make no mistake: neither LA nor the rest of the nation is prepared to properly care for and house the emerging elderly population.

When I speak with people who now must find some level of assisted housing for their elderly parents, their frustration is all too common and similar: there are too few choices and none that are located in their neighborhood. What an interesting concept - siting eldercare facilities "in our neighborhood." This notion is not just for the convenience of the adult child, who wants to remain close enough to the parent for visitation purposes, it is also important for the elder parent, who should not be relegated to living out the rest of his/her life in institutional facilities along major commercial corridors. There must be a way to integrate eldercare housing into residential neighborhoods, including single-family areas.

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